Larry Dapsis has taken the message about preventing tick-borne diseases to school classrooms, to civic groups, and even to outdoor fairs. Now he’s taking it to computers, tablets and smartphones.
“My job is to reach as many people as I can,” said Dapsis, the Barnstable County entomologist and deer tick project coordinator for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension. “I thought, as much as I get out and do public speaking, there must be a way to reach even more people.” The result was a 10-part video series called “Tickology,” produced with the financial support of Cape Cod Health Care.
The videos cover topics from tick identification and tick-borne diseases to tick testing, preventative steps and “tick biteology.” The episodes are between six and 14 minutes in length and are available on YouTube by searching for “Tickology.” While there are other tick education videos on the web, “this is the only comprehensive education package available anywhere,” Dapsis said.
Presenting for video was a unique experience for Dapsis, whose public speaking experience didn’t readily translate to the small screen.
“This was a very different environment to work in,” he said. “It started out rough.” Initially, Dapsis was on a set, but he found he was much more comfortable working alone in the studio, against a green screen backdrop that allowed various different visuals to be added later. But without feedback from an audience, and without the ability to simply skip over mistakes the way he would in person, the job was tricky.
“You have to stay razor-focused because you don’t have notes, you don’t have a teleprompter,” he said. Some of the videos took seven or eight takes to complete.
But the effort paid off, and the final product is a series that’s designed to be informative, entertaining and available to people who might not otherwise have the chance to see Dapsis in person. That’s important, since, as his educational material stresses, one tick bite can change a person’s life.
Cape Cod is home to several species of ticks, vectoring several different diseases. The best known is the deer tick, which transmits Lyme disease, but dog ticks are also prevalent. The lone star tick, a fleet-footed, aggressive tick, was discovered on the Cape several years ago; it can carry a disease that leaves the victim with a chronic allergy to red meat. Newest on the scene is the Asian longhorn tick, which can transmit several diseases, including anaplasmosis and the Powassan virus.
In all cases, the best strategy is to prevent tick bites in the first place, Dapsis said. His favorite strategy is the use of clothing treated with Permethrin, which repels or kills ticks on contact. The insecticide is available at local garden centers and can be applied directly to clothing, which must dry before it can be worn. The treatment remains effective even after several washings. Permethrin can also be applied to yards, focusing on the edges where grass meets the woods. There are also skin repellents and ways to protect pets.
Other Tickology episodes show what to do when tick bites are discovered, how to safely remove them from skin, and how to go about having the tick tested for disease.
The Cape Cod Cooperative Extension’s tick education program has won wide acclaim and is a model for similar programs in other communities, including Plymouth County. While the incidence of Lyme disease is rising in most counties in Massachusetts, it is holding steady in Barnstable County, and state public health officials credit the tick education program.
New information appears regularly about ticks and the diseases they carry, but Dapsis said that the Tickology videos are designed for longevity.
“I tried to make them in a way where the information is going to be relevant for a long, long time. I was very careful about that,” he said. Should key new information present itself, “I know we can go in and do another video. We can add to the set.”
The video series is already getting exposure; it has been distributed to all 34 public libraries on the Cape, and will next be distributed to senior centers and garden centers. It is being picked up by other communities, and has even been featured overseas.
“The Aussies found me,” he said. The videos were broadcast on a national radio program, thanks to the Northern Rivers Tick-borne Disease Network in Australia.
“I’m practicing saying, ‘G’day, mate,’” Dapsis quipped.